Heritage is immensely popular: at least 15 million more paid for visits to historic properties in England in 2013 than to premier and league football matches. It is also lucrative: built and national heritage accounts for approximately 2 percent of UK GDP, and employs around 750,000 people. Beyond economics, Britain’s natural and built heritage plays an important role in contributing to wellbeing and creative enterprise, according to Sir Laurie Magnus. He told an audience of academics, journalists and entrepreneurs that “Britain’s two great capital assets—its historic fabric and its creativity… is a driver of regeneration in urban and rural areas, with the ability to transform those places so that they can again bring sustainability and pride to their communities.”

Ownership and conservation models for built heritage vary, he explained. The National Trust is a great success story. However, privately owned heritage properties need support in order to survive beyond the grandest and most recognised, as do places of worship that are suffering from declining attendance, and escalating repair costs.

“What is clear is that there are solutions which can be found for most heritage assets, provided a realistic and constructive approach is taken.”

Sir Laurie conveyed his optimism for the future of Britain’s built heritage, recognising a growing popular enthusiasm for history.  Yet, “The tide of barbarism which sees history as bunk or garbage remains a potent force… There remains a sense of shame about celebrating our history and our extraordinary legacy of historic structures.”

“At the most basic level, the historic environment—the impact that men and women have left on our landscape, from the first pre-historic settlement to 1970’s brutalist architecture—constitutes a legacy which passes through generations,” according to Sir Laurie Magnus.

In an age of austerity, where the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) must make the case for funding, “it is extraordinary that the word “heritage” (or something similar) continues to be excluded from the nomenclature of government… our heritage is a winner for England every day of the year. The heritage sector largely pays for itself…. surely there should be an “H” in the title DCMS?”

The event was hosted by Hywel Williams, Senior Adviser at the Legatum Institute.

Event Materials

About the Speaker

Sir Laurie Magnus was appointed Chairman of English Heritage on 1 September 2013 and remains Chairman of Historic England. Prior to this appointment he had been Deputy Chairman of the National Trust since 2005 and an elected member of the Trust’s Council since 2003. Sir Laurie is Deputy Chairman (Europe) of Evercore Partners and holds a number of non-executive directorships within the finance sector. He has over 35 years of experience in the corporate finance advisory business, including in South East Asia. In the not for profit sector, Sir Laurie is Deputy Chairman of the Windsor Leadership Trust, a Trustee of the Landmark Trust and a Trustee of the Allchurches Trust. Sir Laurie was a member of the UK Listing Authority Advisory Committee from 2001 until May 2011. Sir Laurie is a member of Historic England’s Business and Finance Committee, Remuneration/HR Committee, Appointments Committee and is a member of the English Heritage Board of Trustees.

About the Roads to Freedom Series

As part of the Legatum Institute's The Culture of Prosperity programme, this series offers a progress report on the idea of freedom. The history of the developed west has been shaped by the increased degree of freedom exercised by individuals who have been able to escape the constraints that prevailed in the past. Previous generations have been stifled by prejudice and poverty, by class hierarchies, state repression and determined obscurantism. By the 1990s, and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, many considered that the advance of an agenda which recognised the legitimacy of free markets and the morality of individual liberty was well nigh inevitable. But in the past two generations advocates of freedom have also been confronted by significant obstacles. The speakers in the Roads to Freedom Series draw conclusions from the study of the past while also seeking to find ways of removing the obstacles to freedom’s progress.